NEW LABOUR cabinet members were very keen to attend this week's Trades Union Congress in Blackpool. However, Pandora has learned from a senior Cabinet source that John Prescott and Mo Mowlam were the only two originally invited. After urgent requests, now even Peter Mandelson is cutting short his trade visit to South Africa to rush back to the seaside gathering, although, following his decision to distance the UK from EU directives on workers' rights, he may wish he'd stayed south of the Kalahari. Claire Short and David Blunkett are also going, while Chancellor Gordon Brown sincerely regrets that the economic crisis meetings in Japan will make it impossible for him to attend. A TUC spokesman maintains that ministers were invited to attend specific debates and adds, "I could not tell you what invitations went out at what time".


WHAT IS it about rich entrepreneurs and hot air? Richard Branson has just announced that, after almost losing his in life in a disastrous North African balloon mishap, he will be making another attempt to circumnavigate the globe next year. Meanwhile, sportswear designer Tommy Hillfiger had his promotional blimp destroyed over New York City in a storm on Monday while advertising the launch of his latest branch in Macy's department store. (Indeed Macy's is being sued for the damage its own balloon caused to a woman during last year's Thanksgiving Day Parade.) Can we expect to see Mohamed al-Fayed - no stranger to hot air - floating skywards over Knightsbridge soon? Pandora supposes it depends on that passport.


ANOTHER ENTREPRENEUR, John DeLorean (pictured), whose gullwing sportscar project in Northern Ireland failed after producing just 8,500 models, has named his list of the greatest cars ever built. Starting with the Ford Model T, the list, in American Esquire, includes the Ferrari GTO, the Acura NSX, the Austin Mini, Lotus 25, Pontiac GTO (designed by DeLorean for General Motors), the Mercedes 300SL gullwing, Mercedes S600 and the Citroen SM. But nowhere on the list is the DeLorean itself. If the designer didn't think his car was all that brilliant, he could have saved the British taxpayers pounds 85m - the sum given him by both Labour and Tory governments to help build a soon-obsolete collectors' item.


WHILE THE British vice consul on Ibiza, Michael Birkett, has just resigned in outrage over the sex-and-drug antics on the island, Rupert Murdoch's SkyTV is all set to import a shocking new game show called Prickly Heat to nearby Mallorca. Thirty-two "unassuming contestants from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are transported to Mallorca and thrown into a hotbed of crazy, sassy activity under Balearic skies", states the Sky PR release. The stated aim is to turn everyone's holiday into "a beach-style take on Gladiators", and of course "there is always room for romance and raunchy antics". Won't the locals, who have been striving to turn Mallorca into an up-market resort in recent years, be pleased with this?


IS THIS how a coalition government begins? It seems that many ranking Liberal Democrats are receiving a Labour Party mailing urging them to vote for the pro-Blair slate of candidates in the elections for the National Executive Committee. Those who have received it, according to the Liberal Democrat News, include Ray Love (Winchester Lib Dem councillor), Bob Bailey (president of Brighton and Hove Lib Dems) and Mike Tuffrey (former Lib Dem leader of Lambeth Council). "I was about to vote in the election," Ray Love told Pandora. "But my conscience caught up with me."


WHILE ON the subject of dubious coalitions, Pandora wonders what to make of Michael Portillo's forthcoming three-part series for Channel 4. Billed as Portillo's personal "quest for a new political agenda for the party", the former Tory Defence Secretary has filmed interviews with William Hague, Norman Tebbit, Chris Patten, Ken Clarke - and Peter Mandelson! What recipe for electoral success has spin-master Mandy given his arch Tory rival? The necessity to keep in close communication with party members, using second class post?

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